A pair of University of Utah research scientists have launched a pioneering comprehensive science news and information website that promises to bolster science literacy for Utahns, train science reporters, and to engage students, teachers, and parents in community, art and education programs related to science.
Explore Utah Science – incorporating a multimedia format that includes print, video, audio, art, and educational content – is believed to be among the first of its kind in the nation, designed as a nonprofit online clearinghouse of news and information specifically dedicated to scientific developments and science-focused events and programs in Utah.
Dr. Kim Schuske and Dr. Julie Kiefer, University of Utah research scientists who also have become active as media communicators of science, founded the website.
‘We were becoming increasingly concerned at the decline of science reporting in the media,’ Schuske explains, ‘but we also wanted to help scientists and researchers branch out to the public in sharing news about their work and to really make this a community experience.’
The Salt Lake City-based KCPW public radio outlet (88.3 and 105.3 FM), also an NPR and BBC affiliate, is teaming with Explore Utah Science to exchange audio stories and share content. At least eight professional freelance writers and reporters already have been contracted to provide content on an assignment basis and plans are to hire at least five more for periodic reporting. (Photo credit: Chris Rodesch, for a forthcoming story on beekeepers.)
Last winter, the National Association of Science Writers awarded a $35,000 grant for the project, one of the largest in the NASW’s Idea Grants program, which started in 2011. Another sponsor is Patrick Shea, an attorney with a strong presence in science-related matters. The site will be free and available to anyone.
Science literacy has been a focus of numerous studies in the recent decade, especially as the number of reporting beats exclusively focused on science has declined because of economic constraints in the media industries. Also, media consumers across all demographics now go online for finding first sources of information related to science, technology, health and other topics.
Jon Miller, who has studied the role of civic literacy in the making of science policy for more than 30 years, has written, ‘Although three out of four adults recognize that all plants and animals have DNA, a majority of American adults do not think that humans share a substantial majority of our genes with chimpanzees or mice.’ Noting that just one in four American readers can comprehend the basic concepts in the New York Times’ coverage of science, he adds that ‘misunderstanding is not limited to human genetics: only half of adults reject the statement that ‘ordinary tomatoes do not have genes but genetically modified tomatoes do.”’ (Photo credit: Dave McKean, brewer, by Mike Horner for forthcoming story on the science of brewing.)
Explore Utah Science, as Kiefer explains, will be focused on ‘making sometimes complicated science and technology comprehensible to a general audience, especially in highlighting stories about the science that’s happening here in Utah.’
And, the state has more than a sufficiently energetic presence in science and technological development that certainly will generate plenty of content for the new website. In a recent survey by the Association of University Technology Managers, the University of Utah topped the list of the nation’s schools in business startups arising from research, besting MIT. And, Brigham Young University outpaced well-known science and tech powerhouses such as Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Purdue, Carnegie Mellon, and the University of Michigan.
Utah also performs well above the national average in terms of invention disclosures, U.S. patents, and active technology licenses. The state has been at the forefront of many areas, including neural engineering, the bioengineering of artificial limbs and prosthetics, clean energy technologies, nanocrystal technologies, and genetic testing for cancer markers. (Photo credit: Artmill, Wikimedia Commons, featuring Amasa backtrail for a story on the conflict between recreation and extraction on public land use.)
The state is a leader in paleontology as evidenced by the impressive paleontological collection at the Natural History Museum of Utah. Utah State University has a prominent role in sustainable agricultural research. Seismological research also is especially prominent in the state.
The site’s education page, available in English and Spanish, will be a major resource for students, teachers, and parents. The content supports statewide STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education initiatives. The page also features student research, education-related feature stories, and a video series about seeking and developing a career in science.
The website surely demonstrates the omnipresent nature of science in our lives, Kiefer says. Forthcoming stories, for example, focus on beekeepers, the science of brewing beer, the work of zookeepers, the efforts of a Utah ski resort in securing forest areas from the harmful effects of bark beetles, and the Amasa back trail and the conflict between recreation and extraction on public land use. (Photo: Kim Schuske, for a story about bomb-sniffing dogs.)
Likewise, Schuske and Kiefer encourage users to upload photos about their experiences and interactions with science, using Explore Utah Science’s Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest platforms. “We hope everyone will use the interactive features, and readers should feel free to submit their own art or ideas for stories. And, we especially hope students will upload images showing science fair projects.”
The events page is segmented into five regions and will include calendar items about science-related lectures, shows, and other programs in relevant regional locations. Users can subscribe also to a weekly newsletter.
Scientists first, Schuske and Kiefer have developed second career roles as media communicators. Schuske, a biologist, has done numerous public radio stories and documentaries about science, along with press releases and articles. Kiefer is a research communications specialist at The Brain Institute at The University of Utah.
The website is located here. To submit ideas or story tips or to subscribe to the newsletter, see here. Explore Utah Science is also accessible on Facebook, Twitter (@exploreus #exploreutahscience), YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest.
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